Sometimes Jesus made his point by speaking in exaggerations. Nowhere is this more clear than when he talked about the dangers of sin.
According to the Gospels, he taught that we should cut off our hands and our feet and pluck out our eyes if they are leading us to sin (Mark 9:43-47). The church has always taught that Jesus was not literally encouraging his followers to maim themselves. Rather he spoke in this dramatic wasy to emphasize his warning about the potential of sin to rob us of eternal life.
Why did Jesus feel it was necessary to speak in such extremes? Because he knew that we risk becoming enslaved to sin if we let sin fester, if we do not repent, and if we do not resist temptation.
So in this article, let’s examine how we can take hold of the power of the cross to free ourselves from any slavery to sin and to draw us closer to our Lord. Let’s see how, rather than cutting off our hands or our feet, the cross has the power to cut sin away from our hearts.
Destroying Strongholds. One of the most important discoveries we can make about the Christian life is the truth that faith is not simply a matter of human effort. It is not only about our striving to act the right way and to believe the right things. Rather, the Christian life is about the power of God alive in us and in our world. It is about God filling us with his power to overcome sin and live in his love. The Christian life is about bringing glory to God and loving one another by the power of the Holy Spirit.
How does this relate to the cross? It shows us that the cross of Christ is one of the greatest spiritual “weapons” we could ever have. The cross opens the door to the grace we need to live the Christian life. St. Paul once told the Corinthians that “the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying strongholds. We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
As we said in our second article, there is a huge difference between “noble” striving and relying on God’s power. Human striving alone, which is good and necessary, does not open itself to God’s spiritual weapons. But Paul tells us that these weapons are stronger that the temptations of Satan. They are strong enough, in fact, to break down strongholds of sin that have made their home in us.
We may have allowed anger or moodiness or lust to establish a stronghold in us. But these strongholds, which tempt us, control us, and separate us from Jesus, can be destroyed as we take hold of the spiritual weapons God has given us—mainly the cross. It is the cross that gives us God’s power to defeat the arguments of temptation that come into our minds. It is the cross that helps us say “no” to sin’s deceitful and empty promises of joy.
The Cross and the Spirit. Scripture tells us that blood and water flowed from Jesus’ side when he died on the cross (John 19:34). From the earliest days of the church, believers have seen the blood as a symbol of the work of the cross, and the water as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. From the time of the church fathers, we have seen that if we want to know God better, overcome sin, and love and serve the church, we need both the cross and the Spirit.
In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul was very clear about this relationship between the Holy Spirit and the cross. When he saw how the Galatians had lost the spiritual clarity they once had, he became very passionate and asked them: “O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? I want to learn only this from you: did you receive the Spirit from works of the law, or from faith in what you heard?” (Galatians 3:1-2).
Paul told the Galatians that the cross of Jesus Christ gave them full rights of sons and daughters. Consequently, they were no longer slaves to sin but coheirs with Christ himself. He told them that the Holy Spirit, who lived in their hearts, was constantly calling out, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6-8). Paul wanted to make sure that the Galatians understood that the cross had set them free from all of their sins (5:1). And he wanted them to know that they were called to be free (5:13). But he cautioned them that they would not experience the freedom that Jesus won for them on the cross unless they asked the Holy Spirit to show them how to be free.
Paul summed this all up by saying, “Those who belong to Christ [Jesus] have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25). In other words, we have to take up the power of the cross in our lives, and this can be done only by the power of the Holy Spirit.
How to Apply the Power of the Cross. As we said in our second article, Jesus died once, for all. His cross has set us free. This is the truth. However, there is a difference between knowing this truth and seeing its power applied to our lives. The application depends upon our allowing the cross to do its work in us, removing the strongholds of sin and replacing them with the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
If we want to see the power of the cross active in us, we have to believe in it. That means telling ourselves that Jesus died for our sins and that sin has no power over us. As Paul says, “Our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin” (Romans 6:6). This is the truth that we must put our faith in. This is the truth that should become part of our daily proclamation of faith. Every day, as soon as we wake up, we should proclaim that Jesus died for all of our sins and that sin has no power over our lives. Then during the course of the day, especially when we are feeling tempted, we should restate this truth and yield in faith to the power that we are proclaiming.
One way to proclaim this truth is to take Paul’s words and make them our own: “I believe that I am dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. I will not let sin reign in me, making me obey its passions. I will not yield myself to sin as an instrument of wickedness. Instead, I will yield myself to God as a person who has been brought from death to life. I want to be an instrument of God’s righteousness. Sin will have no dominion over me, since I am under God’s grace” (Romans 6:11-14).
This is not just a psychological trick. Rather, this is how we can come in touch with the power of God and experience this power helping us fight temptation. The more we declare these truths of the cross of Christ, the more we will see the power of the cross released in us. As we place our trust in Jesus’ cross, his grace is released in our lives. We find ourselves being strengthened and comforted more, and we find a new sense of joy and hope for our future.
More than Conquerors. As amazing as it sounds, we will experience God infusing us with his power as we recite these truths of the cross and as we try our best to avoid sin. We will find a new ability to say no to sin and temptation. We will see the fruit of the cross as temptations that used to drag us down and strongholds that enslaved us lose their power until they melt away to nothing.
All this talk about the cross can sound quite overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you want to experience the power of the cross, simply choose two or three areas of your life that you sense need some work. Then every day, join St. Paul in proclaiming that you are dead to sin in these areas and alive to God. Try your best to surrender them to the cross, where they can be put to death. As the weeks unfold, keep an eye on these situations to see if anything is changing. If you are experiencing increased peace and freedom, you can be sure that the power of the cross is at work in you!
This Lent, let’s assume the role of conquerors. We can overcome everything that separates us from Jesus. Paul was convinced that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). He was convinced because he knew the power of the cross to set him free from sin and temptation. And he was convinced, too, that all of us can know this power. May God bless you during this season of grace and freedom.